Archive for the ‘Librarians’ Picks’ Category

How About Never…?

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

How About Never – Is Never Good for You?:  My Life in Cartoons  by Bob Mankoff

Do you enjoy looking at the cartoons in The New Yorker?  Have you ever puzzled over just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker superior to nearly any other cartoon you have ever seen?  Have you ever had a secret fantasy to get a cartoon published in The New Yorker?  If you would like answers to any of those questions, take a look at Bob Mankoff’s autobiography/history of cartooning/analysis of cartoon humor in general and The New Yorker cartoon humor in particular in this thoroughly entertaining book, How About Never – Is Never Good for You?

 Mankoff was a cartoonist for the magazine years before he became the cartoon editor, probably the best job a person could ever have.  He came into the editing position during the Tina Brown years and has stayed on ever since, adding editing to his other two jobs of cartooning for the magazine and of managing the Cartoon Bank, a database of cartoons submitted to  The New Yorker, making them available for reuse by the public.  His wit and energy move the reader through a short autobiography of the author, noting how he aspired to be a cartoonist for The New Yorker  and what it took him to get there.  He does in fact explore also a brief history of cartooning, and from there he analyzes just what makes a cartoon from The New Yorker funny.  What is that humor, anyway?  Subtle but not too subtle, sophisticated but prone to silliness, never too obscure, the cartoons do demand some thought.  And if you don’t get it, well, Mankoff may not have gotten it either before editing suggestions.  He looks at the signature cartoon humor in the larger culture, as, for example, when Elaine of Seinfeld strives to get a published cartoon explained to her and then tries valiantly to get her own cartoon accepted for publication.  Finally, Mankoff offers hints on how to win at the ever popular Caption Contest, held weekly for aspiring humorists.

The book is packed with cartoon examples, giving readers a chance to savor some of the best published.  By the way, the title, if you don’t recognize it, is the caption from Mankoff’s most famous cartoon of a man trying to set up a business engagement.  Full of laughs, this book will quite possibly make you want to see more volumes of cartoons from that venerable publication, The New Yorker.

D. L. S.

A Prayer Journal

Monday, April 7th, 2014

 A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

While she was a young student of writing, before she published anything of significance that would launch her onto the world stage as one of America’s greatest Southern writers, before anyone really knew who she was, Flannery O’Connor kept a journal of prayers.  And now that deeply personal journal addressed to God is available for us to share.  Each entry, composed between 1946 and 1947, offers words of sincere wonder, gratitude, doubt, and faith.  The journal is short on length, but long on thoughtfulness, as a young woman wanders into her adult life, wondering just what her relationship to God is.  For quiet contemplation, try reading this.  It won’t take long to read; but it may stay with you for years to come.

 D. L. S.

LibraryReads Top Ten for April

Monday, March 24th, 2014

The Storied Life of A. J. Kikry: a Novel by Gabrielle Zevin.




Frog Music: a Novel by Emma Donoghue.




And the Dark Sacred Night: a Novel by Julia Glass.




Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James.




By Its Cover: a Commissario Guido Brunetti Mystery by Donna Leon.




The Intern’s Handbook: a Thriller by Shane Kuhn.




Love Nina: a Nanny Writes Home by Nina Stibbe.

The Axe Factor: a Jim Juree Mystery by Colin Cotteril.




Family Life: a Novel by Akhil  Sharma.

On the Rocks: a Novel by Erin Duffy.





Not I

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Not I:  Memoirs of a German Childhood, by Joachim Fest

What would it be like to grow up in Germany during the rise of the Nazis?  Joachim Fest’s memoir takes us on that journey, year by terrifying year.  One of five children born into a household of conservative and morally committed parents, Fest relays to us how an otherwise happy childhood was impacted by the Nazis, with the secret meetings of like-minded friends, the gradual loss of individual freedoms, and the dire life that awaited a family whose father was forbidden to work for his insufficient embrace of the government of the Third Reich.

Fest’s father was a firm Catholic, and unlike so many other Germans, he found no room in his beliefs for the ugliness and hate that the National Socialists fomented through their propaganda, lies, laws, restrictions, and suspicions.  For his moral stand, he was cast out of his job as a civil servant and denied further work.  Rather than compromise his principles, he held firm and thus taught his admiring children that a higher moral principle was far more important than material comforts.

Despite the family’s descent into hardship, Fest enjoyed a happy childhood, full of lively political discussions, fascinating family friends (many of whom died at the hands of the Third Reich), and a rich schooling both in the classroom and around the dinner table that Fest carefully delineates for us, as he expands his reading tastes from the likes of Karl May to Goethe.

As World War II moved forward and Germany began to suffer staggering defeats, Fest reached the tender age of seventeen and thus found himself in the military.  Eventually captured by the Americans, he spent the final months of the war in a POW camp.  Upon his release, he journeyed back to Berlin, where he found a city destroyed but still full of life, now with the joyous sounds of American jazz everywhere.  Still, it is a frightening tale, full of woe.  That his family survived more or less in tact is a miracle.  That their morals remained firmly in place by the book’s end is not at all surprising.

For a look at German society first under the Weimar Republic and then unbelievably under the National Socialists, turn the pages of this memoir to find a rich if bitterly sad interpretation of German life in the 20th century.

D. L. S.

LibraryReads Selections for March

Monday, March 10th, 2014

LibraryReads is a website that publishes the top ten books published each month that librarians across the country love.  Click here for more info.

This is the list for March.  Click on a highlighted title to go straight to our catalog.

The Weight of  Blood: a Novel by Laura McHugh.




The Accident by Chris Pavone.




The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger.




The Outcast Dead: a Ruth Galloway Mystery by Elly Griffiths.




Panic by Lauren Oliver.




A Circle of Wives by Alice LaPlante.




Gemini: a Novel by Carol Cassella.




Precious Thing: a Novel by Colette McBeth.




Kill Fee: a Stevens and Windermere Novel  by Owen Laukkanen.




Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon.




Hyperbole and a Half

Friday, February 21st, 2014

Hyperbole and a Half:  Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh  (Find this book in our catalog.)

It’s nice to be reading and laughing over a book that nearly everyone else I know is reading and laughing over, as though as a reader, I am finally a part of a shared literary community.  This is one of those books about which your friends might ask, “And did you read the part about…?”  And more laughs erupt.  Drawn from her blog of the same name, Brosh lays out for us in a kind of memoir just what the subtitle says:  memories of lots of mayhem, failure, limited successes, unfortunate adventures and various other misadventures, and then most of all, lots of laughs.  The illustrations are a hoot as well.

Some of Brosh’s life misadventures include her insatiable appetite for cake that deeply impacts her decision to go after her grandfather’s birthday cake even if it is not the best decision for a sugar-sensitive, hyperactive child.  But who ever said children had good judgment?  The goose story is another memorable tale when a wild goose enters her house and terrorizes her for a number of, well, it seems like days, but it is most likely a little less than that.  Her various episodes with her dogs are probably the funniest, with Simple Dog and Helper Dog, neither one of which has much to offer in the way of redeeming qualities.  But both have found a loving home with Brosh and reward her in turn fully, keeping in their dog minds the truism that “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Not all of the subjects discussed in this memoir are laughing matters, as when Brosh explores her bout with depression in ways that are not funny at all but actually terrifying and very real to the readers.  She describes desperately trying to seem all right, wondering if her smile looks real as someone tells her some good news or of her feeling of absolute immobilization as she lies abed for hours on end or dwells in corners.  We are all relieved when she climbs out of that horror of her life.

Most of all, readers will find a humanity in her stories.  Exaggerated as they may seem, maybe things really did happen that way, because after all, isn’t life like that?

D. L. S.

Little Failure

Tuesday, February 18th, 2014

Little Failure:  A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart (Find this book in our catalog.)

Born in the Soviet Union in 1972, Gary Shteyngart and his parents moved to New York seven years later.  Those first seven years of Shteyngart’s life seem to have been just about long enough to leave an indelible impression on him that has informed his life ever since.  This memoir marks the tug of war within, as he tries to assimilate as an American and at the same time stifle his ambivalence towards his Russian past.  This might seem like heady stuff, but Shteyngart manages to make much of this funny in his self-deprecating way.  One closes the book and wonders if this story of growing up in two worlds was all a big ha-ha or deeply sad and touching.  Nevertheless, the story of his childhood and early adulthood becomes a moving memoir, one that even brings him some reconciliation with his oh-so-Russian parents.

Shteyngart leads us on a kind of madcap journey from Leningrad to New York, from birth to first published novel and a little beyond, revealing how his parents raised him (with a mother who would not speak to him if he crossed her and a father who didn’t mind giving him a bit of a slap for similar small offenses), and the impact school had on him.  He shows us what it was like to attend a Hebrew school in Queens, surrounded by native-born children, who bullied him to no end, how he came to attend the prestigious Stuyvesant High School, and why he chose to go to Oberlin College.  All along this educational journey, both in the classroom and at home, Shteyngart gives us plenty of laughs along the way.

But life isn’t just a lot of laughs, is it?  And so we see also the anguish of a son trying to please his parents, who seem to find no joy in his accomplishments.  Or is that just his perception, as they, being from a different culture, hang on to their Russian mindset, even as they deride the land of their birth?  For a long, sad, and at times very funny look at assimilation, be sure to choose this book as a starting point.

Shteyngart has written other novels owned by HCPL, Absurdistan,The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, and Super, Sad, True Love Story.

D. L. S.

My Brilliant Friend

Monday, February 10th, 2014


My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (Find this book in our catalog.)

What would it be like to grow up in Naples in the 1950s and ‘60s?  What would it be like to be a girl raised in a traditional Italian household?  Not very nice, according to Elena Ferrante.  For one, life is proscribed for a female in any patriarchal society, and in Lenù’s family, the patriarchy is alive and well.  Although presented as a work of fiction, this Italian import feels autobiographical.  Readers sense that they are seeing Ferrante’s life as they turn the pages that reveal both the bright moments and the dark ones in a Neopolitan household.

The story focuses on Lenù and her best friend Lila as they grow from childhood to their teen years in a working-class neighborhood in a poorer section of Naples.  Each lives in a family where education is not particularly valued.  In fact, their parents discourage it.  Although it is clear that Lila is very intelligent, she must teach herself in order to learn nearly anything.  Lenù at least is allowed to stay in school beyond her elementary years, but she receives little encouragement to do so.  It is through sheer grit and force of character that she overcomes those barriers to a higher education that are thrust before her.

Both see little future in terms of careers.  Whereas Lila has an eye for design and creates some fabulous shoes for her shoemaker-apprentice brother to make, her master shoemaker father will have none of it.  Lenù fares better if only because she is more invisible and can pass more easily into a classroom and on to dreams of being a writer.

The narrative takes a long look at community and how a community can be its own worst enemy, hindering its members to get ahead, pulling on parents to keep their children in their down-and-out lifestyle, full of poverty and lack of opportunity, out of fear of change, fear of what will happen if that son or daughter moves ahead, leaving everyone else behind.  The collective group doesn’t want progress, but seeks the straight road of sameness and stagnation.

Still, Lenù and Lila form their group of  boy and girl pals, a great gang of children who grow into young adults probably way too soon, but what is the future for them?  Working in a shoe repair store or behind a grocer’s counter, or getting married in one’s mid-teens, it’s all the same as life in this Neopolitan neighborhood continues on in its timeless manner.

If you like this fascinating portrait of life in another kind of society, why not follow up with Ferrante’s sequel, The Story of a New Name?

D. L. S.

January 2014 LibraryReads List

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

These are the top ten books published this month that librarians across the country love.  More…

Click on a title to go straight to our catalog.

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

A Star for Mrs. Blake: A Novel by April Smith

Lost Lake: A Novel by Sarah Addison Allen

The Days of Anna Madrigal: A Novel by Armistead Maupin

A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World: A Novel by Rachel Cantor

The Wind Is Not a River: A Novel by Brian Payton

Orfeo: A Novel by Richard Powers

The Kept: A Novel by James Scott

Little Failure: A Memoir by Gary Shteyngart

The First True Lie: A Novel by Marina Mander


How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

Monday, November 4th, 2013

How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid

It takes a daring author to write a narrative in second person, present tense.  It takes an excellent author to succeed in this form.  Mohsin Hamid, author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, tells this story framed as a self-help book.  In it, our unnamed protagonist is addressed merely as “you,” and the tense used is present.  This rhetorical decision to use an unusual person and tense for a story works wonderfully in the narrative.  The immediacy generated draws the reader in more than one might expect in a book about a poor boy making good in East Asia.

What also works is the self-help organization of the narrative, a method that allows for some bitter irony, as the overall narrator urges our protagonist in chapter headings to “Get an education”; “Don’t fall in love”; “Work for yourself”; and so on.  These chapter headings, so imperatively self-help in tone, serve as launching points to the progressive journey of our protagonist through his life.

And so we journey along with him from his first moment of introduction, as a sickly child lying in misery in his family’s shack in a small village, then, as he rises from this dismal childhood of abject poverty through the years to wealth and prestige as a bottler and distributor of fresh water in an unnamed Asian country, all the way to his old age.  It is a long, difficult journey, one that causes him to work hard, scheme a great deal, occasionally compromise his integrity to get what he wants, and sacrifice much of what he values to keep what he has.

Early on, as a young boy, he meets a girl, a little older than he and also unnamed, who similarly rises through the years but by taking a different career road.  Their parallel journeys cause them to cross paths now and then through the years, creating a kind of on-going love story that carries them through their lives with all the ups and downs that confront them.

Written with an economy of words, sly humor, and a touch of cynicism, this book also reminds us that we have yet another author to add to our list of brilliant storytellers of East Asian descent, with English as their language of choice for their craft.

D. L. S.